By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer
SHENANGO VALLEY —
Shenango Valley Shuttle Service is starting a new route that officials hope is as favorably received by riders as it is by officials at Butler County Community College.
The new route picks up West Middlesex as a regular destination, and also initiates service to LindenPointe technical business park, Hermitage, where BC3’s Mercer County campus is located.
“We think it’s a favorable opportunity for our students who have limited transportation to attend college classes,” said John Suesser, director of BC3’s LindenPointe campus.
BC3 surveyed students a few months ago and the results indicated regular bus service “probably would be very beneficial to dozens of students,” Suesser said.
He predicted that patients of the various doctor’s offices and clients of other businesses in LindenPointe also would use the service.
However, BC3 students will not play a big role as to whether the route is kept on. Mercer County Council of Governments is implementing the new route Monday – the first day of its fiscal year – for a one-month pilot, but BC3’s limited summer schedule doesn’t begin until August.
Suesser said he hopes the pilot sustains service into the fall, when BC3 has its greatest number of students.
“We will need an academic year for a full test,” Suesser said.
Shuttle has three traditional routes that run Monday through Friday: the central route for Sharon residents, the northern route for Sharpsville riders and the southern route for Farrell and Wheatland patrons. All three connect downtown Sharon and the Shenango Valley Mall, along with some of Hermitage’s East State Street businesses.
Because of an expanded census designation of the Shenango Valley’s urbanized area, West Middlesex is now considered part of shuttle’s reach.
The new route, called an express route because it will make its loop in shorter time than the traditional routes, will run between the borough and Donofrio’s, picking up the core of the Hermitage business district. Aside from LindenPointe, that route’s bus also will stop at Hermitage Square Plaza, the mall, Walmart, Hermitage Towne Plaza, Community Counseling Center of Mercer County, the welfare office, Lowe’s, Kohl’s and downtown Sharon.
While the traditional routes stop at Community Counseling, the welfare office and Hermitage Towne Plaza, a rider will need to transfer to the express route to go to, say, Kohl’s or Walmart. Transfers will be made at the mall.
During the monthlong test run for the new route, there will be no additional fare to transfer to the express route. If the route attracts riders, eventually a transfer fee will need to be imposed to sustain it, said Kim DiCintio, office manager of COG, which runs shuttle.
“This is the first big change to the shuttle system since the inception of it,” said COG Executive Director Thomas R. Tulip. “All of the other tweaks were because something moved or went out of business. The idea is to provide more ridership and more opportunities for ridership.”
COG officials worked with transportation consultant Clearview Strategies of Pittsburgh to plan the route.
DiCintio said officials hope the express route will attract people who want to stop at three or four places.
On paper, the new route moves people around more efficiently, and COG officials want to see if that intention holds up. They want the input of riders and drivers, and said they are open to changes.
“There probably will be a break-in period,” said Jill Boozer, administration officer for shuttle’s sister service, Mercer County Community Transit.
“Hopefully, people will find that it helps them,” Tulip said.
The shuttle changes do not affect the regular Saturday service.